Italian horror master Lucio Fulci crafts a terrifying movie around an evil cat

Italian gore master Lucio Fulci (The Beyond) serves up a wonderfully macabre tale in Black Cat, a loose adaptation of Edgar Allen Poe’s short story. A psychic medium attempting to communicate with the dead is locked in a death struggle with his killer cat, set in a quaint English village. A pastiche of Poe allusions from the renowned author’s more infamous stories, Black Cat is an underrated gem by the Italian horror director oozing with atmosphere and dread. This is easily one of the more focused and coherent Italian horror movies of its era, starring the always dependable Patrick Magee.

A rural English village is beset by troubling murders that don’t seem to make sense on the surface in Black Cat. Psychic medium Miles (Patrick Magee) owns a menacing black cat with an evil mind of its own. The sinister cat has a preternatural intelligence, leading human victims to their deaths. Scotland Yard Inspector Gorley (David Warbeck from The Beyond) is called in to investigate the death of a young couple. An American photographer, Jill (Mimsy Farmer), crosses path with the ensuing murder investigation, becoming convinced the cat is responsible for the murders. Miles is locked in a death struggle with the murderous cat, powerless to stop the possibly supernatural feline. Can inspector Gorley figure out his suspect isn’t human before more people fall victim?

… the titular cat gives as good a performance as I have seen from an animal in a horror movie.

While the plot sounds hokey, Fulci’s film is a masterpiece of clever deaths and gripping terror. Remember this film came before the era of CGI – the titular cat gives as good a performance as I have seen from an animal in a horror movie. Patrick Magee and the rural village setting give Black Cat a strong British flavor of the period. What marks it as different in Fulci’s body of work is less reliance on gore. This is an atmospheric, cerebral chiller with a taut script. Made right before The Beyond, Fulci’s 1981 horror classic, Black Cat has a much different vibe steeped in Edgar Allen Poe’s works.

Patrick Magee is wonderful as the reclusive Miles, owner of the black cat. His struggles dealing with his deadly pet, both psychic and physical, are fraught with suspense and tension. Miles realizes he is linked to this evil creature, making his options far more limited and desperate. He is a perfectly flawed character with realistic development, a true rarity in Italian horror.

Black Cat is probably not the first movie you think of when Lucio Fulci’s name comes up but was made during a fertile period for the Italian director. It is not a literal adaptation of Edgar Allen Poe’s short story by the same name, which disappointed some critics. The potent supernatural thriller weaves a dark tale with its haunting atmosphere and gripping direction. It is time for Black Cat’s status as a memorable horror film to gain wider acknowledgement.

Movie ★★★★★

Fulci's Black Cast Blu-ray screen shot 5

Arrow Video delivers yet another fantastic vintage film transfer on Blu-ray for Fulci’s Black Cat. The film-like transfer is a new 2K restoration from the original camera negative for the 1981 Italian production. Beautiful levels of details and fine grain mark the crisp 1080P video’s scope presentation.

The elements are in better than expected shape for the low-budget Italian production. The most visible damage are a few stray vertical bars coming from gate scratches that show up for no more than a few seconds at scattered times. Wonderfully lensed by Sergio Salvati on Eastmancolor stock, the moody 2.40:1 cinematography works perfectly and looks better than ever on Arrow’s BD. Many of the cat’s kills are filmed from its perspective, an innovative low-angle technique.

The new film scan brings out surprising definition in this unfiltered video. Arrow nails the haunting black levels, critical for a film with a black cat as its primary evil. Superb shadow delineation renders every whisker and hair texture of said cat, it is apparent much care was taken to highlight its features in clear detail. Some minor aging to the film stock has brought out slightly stronger magenta tones than was likely originally intended.

Arrow Video provides a strong AVC video encode for both the Italian and English versions of Black Cat. It appears the transfers are virtually identical for each version, though the Italian version runs two seconds longer at 91 minutes and 55 seconds. They share a single BD-50.

Italian movies from the 1980s rarely look this good on Blu-ray. Arrow Video’s exclusive new transfer is a revelation for the horror movie, done with best possible practices from quality film elements. I wish Arrow Video could handle more vintage horror films. They take better care with them than other labels.

Video ★★★★☆

Original Italian and English soundtracks in their native mono audio are included. The audio is a satisfactory 1.0 DTS-HD MA sound, dubbed in both Italian and English. The English dub is voiced by the English leads, including David Warbeck and Patrick Magee.

Speaking honestly, Pino Donaggio’s score is not my cup of tea. It is an overbearing, garish score not well suited to Fulci’s wonderfully moody film. Dialogue remains crystal-clear but the score has piercing treble, bordering on the obnoxious in several tense moments.

The English dub is excellent, syncing very closely with the action. It is my preferred choice of listening as the lead actors dub their own voices. Like almost all Italian films before the 1990s, all dialogue ends up being dubbed, including the native Italian soundtrack.

Newly translated English subtitles and English SDH subtitles are provided for Black Cat. They display in a white font inside the film’s scope video presentation at all times.

Audio ★★★☆☆

Arrow Video has decided to pair up Sergio Martino’s Your Vice Is a Locked Room and Only I Have the Key with Fulci’s Black Cat in a box set titled Edgar Allan Poe’s Black Cats: Two Adaptations. Arrow and/or their American distributor, MVD, forgot to send Martino’s film for review. Like their other recent releases, DVD versions of both movies are included.

It’s a slightly odd pairing but one that probably works for Italian horror fans. The Blu-rays are coded for both Regions A and B.

  • Limited Edition boxed-set (3000 copies) containing both Your Vice Is a Locked Room and Only I Have the Key and The Black Cat
  • Limited Edition 80-page booklet containing new articles, Lucio Fulci’s last ever interview and a reprint of Poe’s original story. The limited edition 80-page perfect-bound book features new writing on the films, illustrated with archive stills and posters.
  • Audio commentary by filmmaker and Fangoria editor Chris Alexander – This is Alexander’s third commentary for Arrow and he freely admits he’s no academic. This is an enthusiastic fan commentary by someone fairly knowledgeable about Italian horror. His observations delve into personal opinion much of the time.
  • Poe into Fulci: The Spirit of Perverseness (25:37 in HD) – Film historian and Fulci author Stephen Thrower on Fulci’s Poe-tinged Black Cat. A thorough look at the film from all angles, Thrower’s documentary and interview reveals a wealth of background material and behind-the-scenes information.
  • In the Paw-Prints of the Black Cat (08:28 in HD) – A look at the original Black Cat locations in Great Britain with Stephen Thrower.
  • Frightened Dagmar (20:12 in HD) – A brand new career interview with German actress Dagmar Lassander. This is a career retrospective where she goes through her entire filmography, including Black Cat. In German with English subtitles.
  • At Home with David Warbeck (70:20 in SD) – An archival interview with the Black Cat star shot in 1995 before his death in 1997. While the video quality is suspect and appears to be from a VHS tape, this intimate interview offers a wealth of memories and anecdotes from the veteran British actor. He talks about Fulci and more in this extensive interview. It’s a very personal, relaxed setting as Warbeck fondly recalls his working experiences and the cast off camera.
  • Original Theatrical Trailer (03:01 in HD)
  • Reversible sleeve featuring original and newly commissioned artwork by Matthew Griffin

Extras ★★★★☆

Full disclosure: This Blu-ray was provided to us for review as a screener copy that may not completely reflect the retail package. This has not affected the editorial process. For information on how we handle review material, please visit our about us page to learn more.


Click on the images below for full resolution screen captures taken directly from the Blu-ray. Images have not been altered in any way during the process.

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